Witnessing the 2019 Thailand MotoGP from the red camp

By Shivank Bhatt | on November 6, 2019

Shivank gets super special treatment during his first MotoGP race, as he gets to rub shoulders with the who’s who of Ducati Corse in Thailand. 

Sometimes it’s hard to tell reality from dreams. Just the other day, I was dreaming that I was in the Ducati hospitality centre and rubbing shoulders with the who’s who of the racing outfit of this iconic motorcycle brand from Bologna. To wake up from a dream like that, I, of course, needed a strong shot of espresso or something similar. Which, as I now recall, was served to me a few minutes later . . . by Paolo Ciabatti, Sporting Director, Ducati Corse. What? Wait a minute! Was I really dreaming? 

As it turned out, all of this actually happened during the Thailand Grand Prix. I was there. In the company of the head honchos of Ducati Corse, sharing the same piece of land, and even the same table for lunch. Obviously, none of this makes sense to me now, because I am still finding it hard to believe that all of this happened!  

You see, I’ve been following MotoGP religiously for over 12 years now. It’s a sport that I love to the core, and if someone – even by accident – mentions MotoGP, I hold them captive and talk about it incessantly. Until recently, though, I’d only watched this spectacle from behind the screen as a fan, but, thanks to my job, I recently had my first taste of experiencing MotoGP live in the guise of an auto journalist. 

Ducati Thailand GP 2019 Experience

The Thailand GP took place between 4th and 6th October, but it started a little too early for us here in India. A week prior to the race, Ducati Corse’s lead rider, Andrea Dovizioso, and Paolo visited India for Shell Ducati’s Rider Day in Delhi. The event took place at the Buddh International Circuit, and we also got to interact with them. 

As a fan first and journo second, I have to say that meeting someone like Dovizioso – the only man who’s been fighting tooth-and-nail with Marc Marquez for the championship for three consecutive years now – was a bit of a surreal moment. 

Having a MotoGP star sitting right in front of your eyes and answering your questions, well, it doesn’t get better than that. But, in this case, it did, because a week later, I was in Ducati pits, drooling over Dovizioso and Danillo Petrucci’s GP19 machines! Yes, I was in Thailand with Ducati India and over 100 Ducati owners to cheer for the red squad in the Thai GP! A lucky few of us, however, had the chance to experience the race from the paddock, where we later went and met the Ducati management. 

Now, what surprised me the most, and keeping in mind the kind of things that are at stake here, was the cheerful and welcoming environment at Ducati. Maybe, to always wear a smile is an Italian thing, but what an amazing atmosphere it was. I felt privileged! 

After the visit to the pits, we were invited back inside the Ducati hospitality centre to gorge on some Italian lunch. And, then, the door opened, and I saw a familiar and chirpy face of a gentleman who goes by the name Gigi Dall’Igna, as he waved past us. For the uninitiated, Gigi is the brains behind Ducati’s racing operations and is officially designated as the general manager of Ducati Corse. He joined Ducati in 2013, and has been instrumental in making Ducati competitive again – making them one of the only title contenders. In fact, there’s a strong belief in the paddock that the Ducati GP19 is the most complete bike in MotoGP. That speaks volumes about Gigi. He is a genius – a superstar in his own right – so it was obvious that I was a bit-star struck to find him in the Ducati hospitality centre. 

During lunchtime, I again found myself sitting next to Paolo. He seemed interested in getting MotoGP to India, and he believes, ‘MotoGP will have to go to India at some point. It’s a big market, you can’t simply ignore it. The Buddh Circuit is a great facility too, and with a couple of modifications, it’ll be ready for a MotoGP race in no time.’ 

However, having dealt with the Indian authorities previously during his time with World Superbike Championship, he is also wary of the challenges of bringing a high-profile racing series to India. ‘You know I was working with WSBK in 2012, and this was the time when we signed a deal with Jaypee Group. Everything went smooth in the beginning and even the Indian round was on the provisional calendar for 2013. However, later on, we realised that the Indian government didn’t recognise motorsports as “sports”. So, we were told that WSBK series will come to India as ‘exhibition’, and we had to shell out a massive amount – to the tune of 25 million Euros! – as a security deposit for importing all the bikes and equipment into the country. On top of that, the money was to be returned only after a year, once all the bikes and equipment were checked-out of the country. We were also told that they’d take a cut of around 5 – 7% from that amount as excise fee! This, of course, didn’t make sense at all. And because of these challenges, we had no option but to cancel the Indian round. It was a shame, really!’

Despite the not so positive experience, it seems that Paolo is still optimistic. ‘With the new government, I’ve heard things have changed a fair bit, and they’re improving, so maybe in the next 3 – 4 years there’s a possibility of MotoGP coming to India because the track, the infrastructure, and fans are already there. Dorna/MotoGP just needs a nod from the government, so I am hopeful that the organisers will try their best to get India on-board.’

After having a long chat with Ducati Corse, there’s no doubt that India is on MotoGP/Dorna’s radar. Having said that, though, the road to MotoGP is long and full of challenges. So, while that happens, I am going to ensure that I do my best to go to Thailand every year, get a paddock pass, and, if possible, try my luck again to sneak into the pits/hospitality centre of Ducati. Am I greedy? Well, not really. It’s just that I still haven’t accepted the fact that I actually watched my first MotoGP race with such VIP treatment. And unless it doesn’t become a motif of my auto-journalism career, I don’t think that the feeling will sink in. 2020, come already!   


Ducati Thailand GP19 Petrucci

It was a fanboy moment for Shivank, as he attended his first MotoGP race and ended up visiting Ducati pits and hospitality, while also chit-chatting with Paolo Ciabatti, Sporting Director, Ducati Corse. 

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